Snapshot: A visit to “God’s Well”

This is not the usual thing for an ordinary citizen to have in their front yard around here.

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But with Jesus Christ in your heart, a person can tend to dream big. God gives ideas that seem impossible. But if we can believe and not give up, we just might see those dreams come true!

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I’ve introduced you to my friend Hadiza before. (Though it has been awhile!) Hadiza and I met the first time we lived here in 2012-2013. She is truly a woman of faith! For this snapshot, I want to show you her most recent dream-come-true.

Hadiza dreamed of having clean water for her neighborhood. The nearest well is an open well, which means the water is dirty and anything at all could fall into it (animals included!) to contaminate it.

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The “open” well

This water causes sickness and is physically difficult to get enough daily water for each family in the whole neighborhood. The nearest clean water well is so far away that a person would need to have a donkey cart to carry the water such a long distance!

Until now.

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Hadiza prayed for God to give her a well. She mentioned this dream to a few people, but she had to wait quite a long time for it! She told me “I really want to have this well to share with my neighbors, and I can tell them that this is not my well, this is God’s well and He wants to bless us. I want this well to be a way to show people that God loves them! Of course these words flow out of her mouth and then she finishes with that gorgeous smile!

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This summer “God’s well” became a reality! With financial support from people in the USA, this well was installed and is a literal beacon of love to Hadiza’s neighborhood. (I am not even sure who they are – they wanted to be secret about it so God will receive all the glory. And also, so that the people here wouldn’t think this was a “white person’s well”… )

Hadiza told me that when they struck water and the first clean cup of water came out of the spout, they gave it to the oldest lady in the neighborhood. This muslim woman drank it and began dancing around and praising God!

Every day now, the people start arriving early in the morning to gather their clean water from God’s well.

So, I wonder what dreams God has given you and me? Let’s start BELIEVING!

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Snapshot: Welcome to Church

Before I came to live in Niger, I had no idea what the church was going to be like. Did they meet in buildings? Did they have chairs or pews? What kind of music did they play? What instruments? Etc.

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Our songbook – “Be Joyful Always”

As you can probably guess, here in Niger there are all kinds of church families – denominations, sizes of churches (#’s of people), sizes and types of buildings, styles of worship and preaching…you get the idea. The Christian churches here are relatively young and undeveloped. I haven’t officially researched church-growth-facts-and-figures, but I can tell you that there is a beautiful simplicity to the church here. It’s not perfect, no way! There is plenty of room for growth – in fact, that is why we are here! We aren’t planting a new church. We came to encourage the believers who are already doing their best to live out their faith in this predominantly musl!m country.

I thought you might wonder what our church actually looks like here?

{For security reasons I am going to keep this description somewhat vague….I will share the photos but I will leave out names, location, etc.}

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The office and meeting room

 

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This is a little blurry (sorry!) but it is the whole building

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Inside the sanctuary during the service Sunday morning

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The choir! (They are amazing!)

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The band!

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Last Sunday we prayed for all the kids since they were heading back to school this week. (This made us think about that wonderful tradition at Christ Lutheran in Tacoma!)

 

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A page out of the songbook – we sing this song to end our service every week. Enter the words in to google translate & you might recognize this song from the 1990’s!

Well, that is just a snapshot for you – but now you can envision at least one of the church families here in Niamey.

I wonder if anything surprised you? Let me know! Or maybe this snapshot prompted some questions you have about the church here? Feel free to reply to this email, or send an email to nikkigray3@gmail.com.

Until next time – “soyez toujours joyeux“! (Be joyful always!)

 

Snapshot: Sahel Academy

The kids are back to school now, and I thought it was a good chance to give you a glimpse of Sahel Academy!

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On August 9th, Nathaniel started 10th grade (ten fingers), Jonathan 9th, and Ruth 7th – all of them at Sahel Academy (SA) here in Niamey.FullSizeRender (57)

SA is an International Christian School, grades K-12, with about 150 students. The students come from over 30 nations! Many are missionary kids, others live here because their families work at an embassy, for the US military, for an NGO (non-governmental organization), and some are local Nigeriens.

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The truth is – our family would not be able to serve here without this school for our kids. The teachers are Christian missionaries themselves, so the education our kids are receiving is coming from passionate, committed individuals. We are so thankful!

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Here is a link to a video Sahel Academy Video Link that was made recently – (it is 3.5 minutes long) – and you just might notice a silly red-haired girl who made it into the video! (Ruth) This is better than all of my random photos so I hope you have a chance to check it out!

Sidenote: Sahel Academy is always recruiting new teachers! Contact me if you are curious what that might look like! nikki.gray@sim.org

 

 

Snapshot: No small feat – Getting a driver’s license!

In the USA there are never-ending jokes about the long lines at the DMV (department of motor vehicles). Let it be known right now that NOTHING compares to the incredible (hassle) “experience” of getting a license here in Niger!

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We have used our temporary International Driver’s licenses since arrival, but the police – who pull people over often to check paperwork – do not like those…they want us to have the real license of Niger. Unfortunately, the process is entirely complicated! And recently they added even more requirements to the process, making it nearly impossible to acquire a Niger driver’s license.

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When we first lived here in 2012 – 2013 it took us nearly 8 months to obtain the Niger driver’s license, but when we left the country we had to turn it back in to the government (in order to receive back our USA licenses). When we returned in January 2017 we requested that they “find them” in the hopes that we wouldn’t have to go through the process again. Initially, they didn’t find them. Ugh! But last week – eight months later! – we received the good news that the old licenses had been found! Hooray!

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So here we are celebrating – with our colleague whose name is Constant. (He truly was thrilled about this “find” but we couldn’t get him to smile for the picture.)

We are thankful for every victory we experience here, and we have learned to take nothing for granted.

 

Snapshot: Do You See What I See?

Driving in Niamey is quite an adventure. I often say that I wish my eyes were cameras because everywhere I look there is something unusual or interesting to see, and I want to capture it all! I just went through my photos that I’ve taken since our arrival in January, to give you a glimpse of what we see each day.

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Cattle. Let me remind you, friends, that this is the capital city of Niger!

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You might be thinking – Oh! A handy place to buy liquor on the side of the road! Nope. These bottles are full of gasoline. Carts like this are everywhere along the roads.


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Yes – billboards! This one is funny because it is advertising a rich drink that people should enjoy during the month of Ramadan. There are many advertisements that make us all laugh because they depict a life that is so far from the realities of life in Niger – people in normal western-styled clothes with American-style houses, etc. I often wonder who makes these decisions?


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I’m not usually fast enough to catch photos of the many sights of what people are carrying on their motorcycles. Animals, rebar (long metal poles for construction), entire families, large wooden doors…the possibilities are endless! Here is a lady with her baby on her back simply wrapped with a cloth. At least she is wearing a helmet!


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Construction! But the techniques here might make you cringe. I personally have two uncles whom I know would take an interest – yikes! – in the scaffolding used to build these buildings too!


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I took this photo last week – it is a coming dust storm! This is a main road here, and I was stuck in traffic as the storm approached.

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Ruth took this out the side window! Besides the storm, you can see lots of garbage –  little black plastic bags and other garbage is everywhere, unfortunately.


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Crossing the Niamey bridge you can see the many people washing their clothes and drying them in the sun. (Warning: hippos lurk in these waters so it is a risky business!)

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I took this photo is 2013 – but you can see the hippos are RIGHT THERE next the bridge and the city!


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Shops. Here is Andy leaving one of our local shops we frequent. This one specializes in electronic stuff, garden stuff, cords, and the like. These small “shacks” are everywhere. Part of our cultural adjustment is simply learning where these shacks are located and what they each specialize in.

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This is a Tailor’s shop (One of our photos from 2013).


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This is not the best picture of a bush taxi, but I remember this one because I thought for sure it was going to tip over! I have MANY pictures of these little vans stuffed with people and their belongings.

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I took this one in 2012 – we were traveling to the Eastern part of Niger. How about those roads!?


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Camels! It is still so interesting to see these animals around the city!

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I know I left out so many things. Goats and sheep roaming everywhere. Chickens. Beautiful people walking and talking. Children playing. LIFE.

Thanks for walking through these roads with us. Hopefully now you have a little better picture in your mind of what we see every day. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Snapshot: Rain!

This snapshot is for all you farmers out there – who truly understand the dependence upon God for your livelihood. (Love you Big Jim & Judy K!)

As you already know if you’ve been on this journey with us, Niger is one of the most undeveloped countries in the world. The government here has declared that a famine is in full swing. The economy is in awful shape, but some things simply continue as they have forever – the fields.

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Fields in Niamey behind Sahel Academy, where our kids go to school.

This country produces mostly millet and sorghum, but there are actually all kinds of things being grown here. I personally enjoy a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables every time I head to the market.

But here is the catch – they MUST have adequate rain. You see, there aren’t all of the fancy irrigation techniques and technology here. They don’t have damns on the Niger river to save water and disperse it where they like. They do things the old-fashioned way – they wait.

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I took this photo in 2013 – here is a family living along the Niger River. They have easy access to water. But without modern irrigation methods, anyone living away from the river must wait for water the old-fashioned way – from the sky.

Right now, in the middle of hot season, everyone talks and dreams and aches for rain. The farmers want to get out there and plant but they must wait for the first big rain to be sure they won’t lose their seeds to the intense heat. I learned that it must rain again within two weeks of the first planting in order to have a crop…otherwise the seeds simply won’t survive.

In the Pacific Northwest, where I am from, hardly three days pass by without some moisture falling from the sky! Since we arrived here in January it has officially rained two times! TWO!

Here is a description from World Vision’s “water matters” website:

“Niger is one of the hottest, driest places in the world. Average temperatures are around 30 degrees C, but are capable of reaching over 50 degrees C in the hot season, between March and June. The air is so hot during these months that rain evaporates before it hits the ground. December through to February are cooler months and the temperature can actually drop to freezing in the night-time desert. The harmattan winds usually arrive just before the rains. They create dust storms that can cut visibility down to almost nothing. The rainy season comes to the southern parts of the country in late May to September, although rainfall is often unreliable.”

Two weeks ago we unexpectedly had our first really big rain! It came early, though. So I hear that some farmers took the gamble and planted their seeds in hope for more rain. Some didn’t. It hasn’t rained in Niamey since that day. What will this mean for those farmers?

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My dear friend Enseoung Kim, who is a missionary from Korea, took this photo when it rained two weeks ago.

When the rain starts falling – (often after a horrendous dust storm!) – the relief and excitement in the city is tangible! After our recent rain two weeks ago, the temperature dropped 20 degrees and there was a fresh, revitalizing breeze. I know loads of friends whose children ran outside to  jump around in it!

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Here are some children of missionary friends who knew just how to enjoy the rain! (Our kids haven’t lived here long enough, they just stayed in bed.) Photo credit: Chantelle McIver

It’s a veritable rain party!

Honestly, can my friends in Washington State even IMAGINE? A rain party!

I borrowed these photos of a Niamey dust storm so you could see what that is like. I am usually hiding inside a building making sure the windows are shut when this happens – NOT taking pictures!

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The dust storm arriving before the rain – hurry and get the laundry off the line! Photo credit: Ruth Wong

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It is so normal that the people are just walking ! Photo credit: Ruth Wong

Voila! Thanks for taking a look at this snapshot. Now, pray with me for an excellent rainy season here in Niger.

To learn more about the rain here, check out these links:

http://www.worldwatch.org/node/4547

http://www.our-africa.org/niger/climate-agriculture

http://www.watermatters.worldvision.org.nz/sections/abidasWorld/country/geography.aspx

This is a link to the facts page for kids – learning about Niger from World Vision.

http://watermatters.worldvision.org.nz/sections/abidasWorld/country/  

 

 

 

Snapshot: A New Way to Buy Clothes

Back home I enjoy shopping for clothing treasures at Goodwill or Value Village, though my absolute favorite store is Eddie Bauer. Buying clothes here in Niamey is not as simple (since there aren’t any clothing stores like that), but the clothes are certainly more lovely! The clothes for women here in Niger are absolutely unique and beautiful. Driving down the road, it is a very real distraction to notice the stunning, flowing fabric of a woman’s dress as she walks along the road. For me, the goal is to be approachable for the  people here, to be culturally appropriate and break down as many “walls” as possible. I’m going to share the process with you here, though I regret my photography isn’t the best – sorry!

 

Here is how it works: First I must go to the market and buy some fabric.

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As you can see, there are SO MANY CHOICES! It takes awhile to sort through it all. A sweet woman will help unfold the fabric so I can stand back and really see it in full.

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This shop is usually full of people. The owner is a very friendly man who greets me with a wide smile and the traditional french phrases. I make my choice finally, but that is only the beginning! Now I must decide what style to have made. I like to borrow one from a friend to use as a “modèle” for the tailor.

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I found this tailor through my missionary friend (thanks Becky!).

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I bring my fabric and the modèle to his little shop. Then he will take my measurements (since the modèle is in my friend’s size!).

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Then, after making a negotiation for the price and finalizing the date for pick-up, I’m on my way! I’ll be back within a week or less to pick up my lovely outfit. I may need to make some minor adjustments, but the final result is really special.

Here are a few pictures to show some outfits that Ruth and I have had made since we’ve arrived in January…

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As you can see, this isn’t the quick option we have in the USA, but I enjoy it. Our language tutor told me recently that Nigeriens see a westerner in african clothes and it immediately has a warming effect, making them more approachable. They appreciate the modesty and effort to adapt to their culture in this way.

I’m curious… what’s YOUR favorite store?

 

To Market! To Market! To Buy…Mangoes!

We recently heard from our language tutor that Niger has declared that they are experiencing a famine. But we really don’t experience the effects of this in the city of Niamey. The people in villages may be struggling to survive, while the city (where we live) has food. This reality is difficult to understand, but nevertheless our family is not suffering for food.

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Being mindful of this, one highlight for me is being able to buy local fruit, vegetables and eggs at the market. There are many roadside stands to choose from, but we have a particular stand that we prefer. It is a little off the beaten path, but we can find all of our “fresh things” we need there. Now that we are familiar, the vendor seems to know what we like and goes out of his way to keep us happy. I like to ask where the fruit is from, and buy what is grown in Niger whenever possible. Let’s keep this economy moving, I like to think to myself, one grapefruit at a time! 

Right now – it is mango season.

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Look at all these mangoes!!!!

Try not to be jealous, but right now I can buy a kilo of mangoes (that’s about 3-4 of these beautiful mangoes) for 500 cfa = which is a little less than one American dollar!

Yum! Now I need some creative ways to eat them…recipes anyone?

Thinking About Communication & Learning Things the Hard Way

Communication is one of the things I think about a lot. And, now that we are on the other side of the planet from so many people I love dearly, I think about communication now more than ever!

I’ll be honest, thinking about this has given me stress since our arrival. I find myself wanting to write letters and share little tidbits throughout each week, though I don’t have any real method or order to do it, or even the time for it! For someone like me who strongly believes in the importance of communication in relationships, this “stress” is a very real battle! I realize we must fully invest our lives here, but I cannot ignore this inner urge to stay connected.

So, I have an idea to help me follow through. I simply needed a plan. I hope it will be a blessing to you – those who read this blog and our email updates, and who choose to follow our ministry here. And I also hope this will help me satisfy my desire to connect our lives here with the world we left behind.

My plan: I’d like to share here on this blog short “snapshots” of little things we see or learn here, without the pressure to write an entire blog article. This will be short and sweet, with photos and insights gained while living everyday life here in West Africa.

Without further ado – here is a quick look at something we “tried” last week: Hosting a dinner with a Tuareg family!

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This family lives right outside our front door, within our small walled compound. The mother and daughter do not speak French and the father only speaks a little bit of French. This has made our “co-habitation” somewhat challenging. But we wanted to extend our friendship to them by hosting a meal.

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We asked a few questions of a missionary friend here who works with the Tuareg people and we followed the advice. Invite them to our terrace (instead of inside at the table), men on one mat, women on the other. Simple food. Voila!

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Ruth and I shared some pens and paper to draw pictures and identify things in English, French and Tamajaq languages. Amie (the wife) wrote our names in Tamajaq, and she gave Ruth and I small beaded bracelets as gifts! Meanwhile Andy was trying to speak with Shorib (the husband) in French.

Here’s the funny thing – they hardly ate anything! Seriously, I wondered if I had done something wrong…here I had made plenty, and the food was simple enough (chicken peanut sauce with rice) but they just hardly ate more than five bites! It was so unexpected!

Upon investigation afterwards, what might have happened – according our local friends – is that the Tuareg are private and do not like eating in front of people. So until they are completely free and comfortable with people, they do not like to eat in front of them. What we could have done, then, is give them a large platter of food to take back to their shelter to eat privately. The other theory is that they simply did not like the food! And in this culture, apparently, it is completely acceptable to just not eat what is served.

Who knew? I guess sometimes you just have to learn things by stepping out and trying!